Blackfeet Nation Receives Grant to Aid Tribal Prosecutions

DOJ funds arrive just as lawmakers move bill to address missing and murdered native women closer to a final vote

By Tristan Scott
Beacon file photo

The Blackfeet Nation this month received nearly $500,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Justice to assist with violent crime prosecutions in both tribal court and in U.S. District Court.

The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded the tribe $499,774 as part of the Tribal Special Assistant United States Attorney Program. The funding will be used to hire a tribal prosecutor, who also will be designated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a Special Assistant United States Attorney. The prosecutor, who is required to be a law-trained attorney, will be able to work not only in tribal court but also present major criminal cases in federal court under the direction of U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The grant will assist and expand the Blackfeet tribe’s current prosecution program.

Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Tim Davis said the funding is an important step toward improving the criminal justice system on the reservation.

“This opportunity and much needed funding provided through the DOJ provides our Tribal Courts prosecution division with a professionally trained attorney who will assure timely prosecution of violent crime in Tribal Court and assist in bringing serious crimes into federal court,” according to a statement from Davis. “We are grateful for this partnership and look forward to improving public safety for the people of the Blackfeet Nations.”

U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said the grant will help the Blackfeet Tribe increase the prosecution of violent offenses in tribal court and assist in bringing serious crimes into federal court.

“The program will help reduce violent crime, including drug-related activity, and improve public safety,” Alme stated in a press release. “We look forward to continuing to work with the tribal prosecutor’s office to ensure public safety on the reservation.”

Meanwhile, as the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women continues to plague Indian country, federal legislation intended to improve the response to the problem has begun to advance, with support from both Montana U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Republican Steve Daines as it heads to the floor for a Senate vote.

If passed, the bill, Savanna’s Act, would aim to improve data on tribal victims of violence, improve tribal access to crime information databases and create locally developed guidelines for responding to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

According to the National Institute of Justice, more than 80 percent of native women have experienced violence, almost half within the last year.

“When it comes to ending this epidemic, Native communities have to navigate a jurisdictional maze of bureaucracy,” according to a statement from Tester. “That’s why we need Savanna’s Act, to improve information sharing between law enforcement agencies, establish better response protocols, and put an end to these crimes committed across Indian Country.”

Other steps to address the disproportionate level of violence committed against Indigenous women include the expansion of the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) to an additional 25 tribes, including the Blackfeet Nation.

The program, administered by the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Interior, not only provides access to national criminal databases but also enables tribes to enter and track information about missing persons.

The Blackfeet tribe will be Montana’s second tribe to join the TAP program. The Fort Peck Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation, based in Poplar, currently participate in the program.

By the end of 2019, the Justice Department will expand the number of TAP participating tribes by more than 50 percent — from 47 tribes to 72 tribes.

TAP allows tribes to access to information in several national databases through the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Systems network, including the National Crime Information Center and other databases.

The program also provides tribes the ability to access and exchange data with national crime information databases for both criminal and civil purposes.

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